The American Idol contestant turned worship singer is back with Rise, and while it may not rock the charts, it has a heart and artistic progression that’s admirable.
Before Gokey became a contemporary Christian singer, and even before American Idol, he was a church worship leader. That’s probably not surprising when you listen to his first two albums, and not always for good reasons. His music had a sort of functional or pragmatic air to it, the sort of contemporary worship music you might expect to find in a large community church, but not the individuality that makes great contemporary Christian music.
With Rise, Gokey is changing that. It’s not a black-and-white to color difference mind you, but this album has more of a pop-tinged sound to it, rather than a cookie-cutter worship album. He brings in some interesting instrumentation at times, utilizing trumpets or sax. He brings in guest singers like Jordin Sparks and occasionally throws in a more adrenaline-fueled song, such as “Symptoms.”
But as we saw with Relient K’s Collapsible Lung, sometimes changing to a more widely accepted sound canbe a symptom of compromise that becomes lyrical as well. Here, however, that isn’t the case. Gokey’s focus is still very indicative of his worship music roots, with the trial-themed opener “Stronger Than You Think” and the earnest “Better Than I Found It” being prime examples. None of these lyrics stand out as being particularly poetic or clever, but the messages in them are as sincere as they are simple.
For instance, in “If You Ain’t In It,” Gokey sings “Write my story any way I want/Everything will just fall apart.” There are similar sentiments in other songs, such as “Chasing” (“I’m just running circles, getting tired/I’ve tried to fill your space with my dear size”) and regrettably boring title track (“But something inside you can’t deny/You hear the call of your creator”).
While solid lyrically and given a promising new direction for Danny Gokey, Rise is unfortunately a mixed bag at best when it comes to memorability. That’s one of the greatest tests of good music, but few of these songs have stuck with me. There are some catchy songs here. The driving funk-esque style of “Symptoms” is a lot of fun, as is the pop sensibility of “If You Ain’t In It.” And I wouldn’t say that there are a lot of throwaway songs either. The album doesn’t feel like it’s infused with filler, only that it probably isn’t memorable enough to get on a top ten list for the year (once we’re far enough into the year for that sort if thing).
But if it’s nothing else, Danny Gokey’s Rise is certainly fun and enjoyable, with positive, uplifting messages and a pop-centric tone. That makes it more interesting that Gokey’s previous releases, at the very least, and helps set him apart in a Christian music industry that has become far too uniform and predictable. It’s worth a listen at the very least, even if it may not make a summer playlist.